Monday, August 28, 2006

Scott H. Biram - Graveyard Shift

I got this album pretty soon after it first came out last month, but I never had the will to take it out of my stereo, I just wanted to let it keep playing over and over. This is the second Bloodshot album by Austin-based "dirty old one man band" Scott H. Biram and his fifth album overall. Unlike his previous record (which I reviewed here), this record really is just him, singing lead and harmony vocals and playing all the instruments: guitars, harmonica, Hammond B3 organ, and a plethora of percussion and "random noise." He is only joined by another person for one track; Ethan Shaw of Chili Cold Blood and the Moonhangers plays steel guitar on "18 Wheeler Fever."

His previous album The Dirty Old One Man Band has a very live feel (not surprising since a good half of it are concert-recorded tracks) and features backing by the Weary Boys to round out the sound on several tracks. The other tracks only have Scott playing what he could conceivably play simultaneously: guitar, foot-pedal percussion, and harmonica or voice. I don't know if that album was recorded with or without overdubs, but Graveyard Shift doesn't have any pretense of avoiding them. This gives a much richer texture as electric and acoustic guitars intertwine, voice and harmonica overlay, and Hammond B3 provides a foundation for all sorts of stuff that definitely couldn't be played by the same person at the same time.

This record is rather morose, as is indicated by the title and the album art. Scott continues to work through his near-death experience in a head on collision with a semi. His deep ambivalence to death and spirituality is puzzling as it makes him hard to categorize. His frequent use of the gospel call and response form as well as calling out to Jesus both come off as neither sincere nor insincere. His use of religious musical forms certainly cannot be grouped with the so-called irony of current indie rock, but it also doesn't have a place within gospel.

While this album doesn't quite teeter precariously between Saturday night and Sunday morning (it's more Saturday night) the way Bob Wayne's Blood to Dust does, I feel that it further represents a revival of the ambivalent relationship between gospel and the blues that was so important in the formative years of what we have come to call country music and which has been somewhat lacking recently.

Scott H. Biram - Been Down Too Long

From Bloodshot
From Amazon

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dale Watson - Whiskey or God

Sorry for the delay. Two unexpected things about my new schedule. First, without a twenty minute drive to work, I have no built in time to just listen to CDs, and not listening to CDs means not being able to write about them. The other thing is that not working nights anymore, I can go to weeknight concerts (like I just did) which further eats up my time.

Dale Watson released this album several months ago, but I just picked it up last week. It's a strong outing from one of the reigning kings of the honky tonk. Featuring songs he's been playing live for years but that have never made it onto disc, this album has the polish of the studio with the intimacy and emotion of a live recording.

Dale Watson is often grouped with alt-country, but he isn't alternative in the same genre-bending way as, say, the Bloodshot Records stable of artists. He's not particularly interested in combining seemingly disparate genres and examining off the tensions created. Rather, he's interested in making good old country music. Unfortunately, these days that is an alternative to the mainstream. Not to say that he doesn't have a wide range of influences. This album has songs with influences from Cajun, Tex-Mex, and even disco, along with the more expected honky tonk, Bakersfield, and Nashville Sound.

For some of these songs, I can make an educated guess which album they were originally written for. This is particularly true for "My Heart is Yours" and "I Wish I Was Crazy Again," both of which delve into the same agony of love and loss that is featured on Every Song I Write is For You. (Thankfully, these songs don't feature that albums synth strings.) "I Wish I Was Crazy Again" is to me the strongest song on the album. Listen for the subtle trombone on this track.

Dale Watson - I Wish I Was Crazy Again

From Dale Watson
From Amazon

Friday, August 11, 2006

Service Advisory / A Brief Personal Note

Thanks for reading me for the last few months. Some of you may have noticed my pretty regular Tuesday/Thursday night posting routine. Tonight will likely be the end of that. Tomorrow is my last day at my full-time job and next Thursday I'm starting school again -- the master's program in American Studies at the University of Kansas. I'm planning on focusing my studies on the same sort of music upon which I focus here.

In the coming weeks, I hope to feel out a regular, probably still twice weekly posting schedule. Until then, check back once in a while; I'm not going on hiatus.

Caught in the Webb: A Tribute to the Legendary Webb Pierce

To be honest, before I picked up this tribute album, I didn't really know that much about Webb Pierce. I'm not sure I could have named more than a couple songs of his. "There Stands the Glass" was his one really big hit, and BR549 covered "Honky Tonk Song." But somehow I know most of the songs on this CD. I guess he was a bit more prolific than I knew and is well remembered by classic country radio.

This is a remarkably successful tribute album. Like many country tribute albums, this one has a house band, led here by Kenny Vaughan, that gives a unifying sound. The individual needs of the singers aren't ignored, though; the band is able to adjust according to the style of each guest. The contributions from Emmylou Harris, Dwight Yoakam, Dale Watson, and Willie Nelson, all highly distinctive artists, fit well within their individual bodies of work.

Being such an even album, there isn't one obvious stand out track. I'm going to post the contribution from the disc's producer, Gail Davies.

Also, the proceeds from this album go to the Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Gail Davies - Love Love Love

From the Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation
From Amazon

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Bloodshot Bill

I saw one man band Bloodshot Bill at the Replay Lounge last night. I missed the first part of the show 'cause of work, but the rest was really good. And apparently I look cool enough to work at the Replay 'cause two people mistook me for the doorman since I was sitting kind of near a door that you're not even supposed to come in. Guess they thought I was guarding it.

Well, Bloodshot Bill is crazy and Canadian and plays guitar, bass drum, and high hat all at the same time. He has a new record out in September from punk/psychobilly label Flying Saucer Records. In the mean time he's selling home-burned "limited edition" tour only CDs, which feature some tracks off the upcoming Trashy Greasy Rockin' 'Billy album as well as some tracks that aren't otherwise available on CD.

Bloodshot Bill inevitably draws comparisons to other one-man-bands Hasil Atkins, Bob Log, and Scott Biram, but those comparisons only go so far. Bloodshot Bill leans much more punk than any of these others. If Hasil Adkins started out trying to be Hank Williams' whole band, then Bloodshot Bill is a one man London Calling.

Bloodshot Bill - Hide n Seek

From Bloodshot Bill

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Pine Valley Cosmonauts - The Executioner's Last Song

I just heard a piece on NPR today about North Carolina's new Innocence Inquiry Commission which got me thinking about this CD. I actually got this several months ago during Bloodshot's spring cleaning sale, but it got lost in the mess of my car. Well I dug it out and gave it another listen.

Although billed as by the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, this is in reality a compilation album. The Cosmonauts serve as house band for the project, but every song is credited to a guest performer. The song selection is probably about the most morbid of any album I have (even more so than American V), but mostly in a humorous way, if you can be humorous about death, seeking, as the cover says, "consign songs of murder, mob-law & cruel, cruel punishment to the realm of myth, memory & history!!"

The proceeds to this album benefit the Illinois Death Penalty Moratorium Project, which I don't think exists anymore. I think maybe it goes to the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty. It may have dropped out of the news, but the moratorium is still in effect, leaving the death penalty in Illinois in a strange limbo, as it still exists de jure and several people have been sentenced since the moratorium, but it cannot be carried out. The fate of the Moratorium probably rests in the hands of the voters in the upcoming gubernatorial election.

Anyways, this album is quite enjoyable considering the weighty topic. I know we've all laughed at the Louvins' "Knoxville Girl," which is the lead off track, here performed by Brett Sparks. And we laughed through most of this album, as maybe we should, at the sheer absurdity of it. Not that there aren't serious songs here, such as "Oh Death" by Diane Izzo or "Idiot Whistle," with Tony Fitzpatrick giving a very serious recitation about the politics behind the continuation of the death penalty.

The Pine Valley Cosmonauts w/ Frankie & Johnny Navin - 25 Minutes to Go

From Bloodshot
From Amazon

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Texas Unplugged Vol. 2

This is the second volume in the Palo Duro series of acoustic albums from their stable of Texas musicians. Included are the Derailers, Dale Watson, Johnny Bush, and Two Tons of Steel. This albums serves as both an introduction to the label as well as a look into Texas music in a particular style. The low-key, but not quite "stripped down", nature of the acoustic constraint gives a little more prominence to the songwriting in most cases, although Cindy Cashdollar and Carolyn Wonderland supply a wonderful Dobro/Guitar duet instrumental.

Of the twelve contributors to this album, only the Derailers and Watson are already in my CD collection. Their contributions are pretty close to the nature of their regular, electric work. I'm not sure about the rest of the people, though. I was a big fan of the MTV Unplugged years ago, but those performances often had little to do with the studio albums of the groups. Nirvana's MTV Unplugged in New York (their only listenable album, to me) is practically an alt-country album, quite different from their studio work or normal performances.

I am interested in following up on some of the groups on this CD. Two Tons of Steel has been on my wish list for a while, and the Sidehill Gougers sound very promising.

The Sidehill Gougers - One Tiny Sin

From Palo Duro
From Amazon